Welcome!

If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking 1-2x a week, and it's better late than never! Before reading any of the "reviews", you should read the intro, the FAQ, the MOVIES I HAVE ALREADY SEEN list, and if you want, the glossary of genre terms and "What is Horror?", which explains some of the "that's not horror!" entries. And to keep things clean, all off topic posts are re-dated to be in JANUARY 2007 (which was before I began doing this little project) once they have 'expired' (i.e. are 10 days old).

Due to many people commenting "I have to see this movie!" after a review, I have decided to add Amazon links within the reviews (they are located at the bottom), as well as a few links to the Horror Movie A Day Store around the page, hopefully non-obstructively. Amazon will also automatically link things they find relevant, so there might be a few random links in a review as well. If they become annoying, I'll remove the functionality. Right now I'm just kind of amused what they come up with (for example, they highlighted 'a horror movie' in the middle of one review and it links to, of all things, the 50 Chilling Movies Budget Pack!!!).

Last but not least, some reviews contain spoilers (NOTE - With a few exceptions, anything written on the back of the DVD or that occurs less than halfway through the movie I do NOT consider a spoiler). I will be adding 'spoiler alerts' for these reviews as I go through and re-do the older reviews (longtime readers may notice that there is now a 'show more' which cleaned up the main page, as well as listing the source of the movie I watched, i.e. Theaters, DVD, TV) to reflect the new format. This is time consuming, so bear with me.

Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Pet Sematary II (1992)

SEPTEMBER 15, 2018

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL, ZOMBIE
SOURCE: STREAMING (AMAZON PRIME)

After I had my kid I vowed to never watch Pet Sematary again until he was too old to be getting hit by cars (if he gets hit by one as an adult it's not something I can blame myself for; it just means he's just a dumbass), but Pet Sematary II was fair game, at least as far as I could recall. I saw the film theatrically in 1992 (and vividly remember having trailers for Dr. Giggles, Candyman, Hellraiser III, and Innocent Blood - none of which I got to see until video, boo) and a couple times on cable after that, but it had been at least 20 years since my last viewing, and couldn't remember much beyond Clancy Brown using a dirt bike tire to splatter a bully's head. I also recalled that it was about a father and son coping with the loss of the mom, but couldn't remember which of them (if either) put her in the titular locale. Needless to say, I definitely couldn't remember if it was any good (seems if I loved it as a kid I would have watched it more than 3-4 total times), so after playing PS4 (Spider-Man, specifically - it's so good!) for a few hours and finding it while scrolling around Amazon Prime, I loaded it up, figuring I'd fall asleep and would finish it the next day on the off chance it seemed worth the revisit.

But it was pretty good! And, much more surprising, I didn't fall asleep! I eventually shut it off around the halfway point because I basically *had* to go to bed by then (it was like 2 am), finishing it the next day. A few things came back, like a bit where Anthony Edwards (as Ed Furlong's dad and the town veterinarian) tells some little girls where to find some free kittens to adopt, only for them to find the little furballs all torn to pieces by Zowie (a wolfdog that takes the Church the Cat role of "pet that comes back evil but teaches us no lesson whatsoever" this time around), but for the most part it was kind of like seeing a movie for the first time, which is always fun. It's kind of the only good thing about aging, really - if I wait long enough I can be re-surprised by a movie I already saw. I totally forgot about the Marjorie character, who is a sort of love interest for Edwards' character, and thus (spoiler for 26 year old movie ahead!) got to be pretty stunned when she got offed in the climax, figuring she'd get to do something motherly to save Furlong and maybe hint at being a stepmom down the road. Nope, she's dead! You can't ever be happy, Anthony Edwards!

Curiously, the plot is somewhat similar to Return to Salem's Lot, which is another sequel to a Stephen King movie based on a (non-sequelized) book. Both of them have a father and son moving to the town where the events of the first film occurred, with the son falling in with the town's deadly secrets and the dad trying to save him before it's too late. And once again there are no returning characters, though I guess that's not too surprising here since pretty much everyone died in the original. The only exception was Ellie, the daughter, and apparently the original idea for this film was to present her as a teenager, but the execs weren't sure anyone would be into a movie about a teenage girl, which is pretty funny if you think about the fact that the tradition of making Stephen King movies began with a movie about a teenage girl. So we get Furlong, because at that point execs were more convinced people would see a movie about him (after the box office failure of this and Brainscan, they realized that no, we would not).

However, they do work in a character that was left out of the first movie: Church's vet, Dr. Jolander. It's funny, because even though I haven't read the book (I tried, when I was like 10 or 11, after seeing the movie - but found it too hard to follow. I'll finish it someday, swear!) there was something about him, from the first second he appears, that made me feel he was a legit King character, unlike all of the others in the film who were created specifically for it. He's even introduced the way one might bring back a fan favorite character for a cameo, so even though it's a bit clunky I like how they at least made a good effort into tying it into the first film and King's world as a whole. The only other real reference to the first film is when the kids bike past the abandoned Creed house, and of course the "Sematary" itself, which looks about the same to my eyes even though the film was shot in Georgia instead of Maine.

Of course, the two films share a director in Mary Lambert, so it makes sense she'd go the extra mile to tie the two films together however she could. And she does a fine job again here; even Furlong is better than usual, and she gets a terrific performance from Clancy Brown, who starts off as a typical Brown character (authoritarian asshole) but after he is killed and revived, he's kind of like a goofy Frankenstein's monster of sorts. There's a great little scene where he's at the dinner table with his stepson and Furlong (the kid's bestie), shoveling food into his mouth and opening wide like a little kid would, making the boys laugh - it almost seems like he came back "good" since he was an asshole to begin with. But before long he starts killing people (he also rapes his wife, who is understandably not in the mood to fool around with an ice cold dude sporting a gaping neck wound), killing that theory, though it is kind of fun to see a human more or less making their way through life again, something the first film never had the chance to do since Gage was in killer mode almost instantly and the movie ended when the mom returned.

The one big blunder is that the "revive the mom" subplot kicks in so late, you wonder if they had a different ending or simply forgot to film some scenes along the way. You've practically forgotten about her by the time she's revived, and I don't know if it's just Furlong's subpar acting or bad writing, but I don't buy him teaming up with Zombie Clancy Brown (who is the one that exhumes the body and seemingly doesn't want to harm him for whatever reason) or seemingly choosing her over his normally living dad. Apparently there's a longer version out there with more gore (a bootleg, not an official release) but I'm curious if there are some character beats that got dropped along the way as well. Just seems like a lot of folks turn on a dime with regards to their actions, as if it WAS based on a book, a much longer one that had the time to pace these arcs more carefully.

Otherwise, the only other issue is that the Ramones song during the credits isn't as good, though there's a solid Dramarama track ("I've Got Spies") and L7's "Shitlist", beating Natural Born Killers by two years. I can only assume it was the general disinterest in horror during that period that kept the movie from being a hit (indeed, of all the films I listed above, it outgrossed all but Candyman), because in its low-key way it really does offer an ideal sequel, retaining the basic idea and keeping a consistent vibe, but offering new ideas and opening up the mythology a bit to plant the seeds for future installments should they come to pass. I don't know if it could have been a long-running franchise like the Children of the Corn films, but come on, even Mangler got two sequels - we shoulda gotten one more trip to Ludlow! Oh well. Maybe if the upcoming adaptation (coming next year, 30 years after the original) is a big hit they can try again. But if not, at least we have this one, which is better than it has any right to be.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Toybox (2018)

SEPTEMBER 12, 2018

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: STREAMING (ONLINE SCREENER)

Roughly 95% of my unread emails are links to screener versions of various low-budget/indie horror movies; the sort of thing I'd watch all the time back when this site was updated daily. Since "quitting" I'm much more selective, because a lot of these movies are bad and caused me to quit in the first place (or were so anonymous and bland I'd have nothing to say about them), but I keep them lying around for the days I find myself with time to kill. One such example is The Toybox, which I got a few emails about and didn't think much of it, but opted to watch the trailer and saw that the protagonists seemingly lived not too far from me in the deep San Fernando Valley, if the establishing shots were any indication. I mean, I couldn't quite see my house, but I saw the roads I drive on every day, so I was kind of endeared to it and gave it a shot.

Plus, it was about a haunted RV, which could be disastrous but at least offered more options than the usual haunted car (or haunted racist truck, if you're Supernatural), which made their choice of filming location tickle me even more. See, at my previous place, two miles from where I am now (and even closer to the street seen in the film), there was this motel around the corner that always had an RV parked in front of it. For the two years I lived there, I don't think I ever saw that thing move, and while it was kind of an ugly looking thing it was helpful to give directions to people who might have trouble finding our street - "Just look for the RV parked on the street and turn there." Plus I was amused at the idea of it being outside of a motel, as if to taunt them, since an RV provides the same "temporary" accommodations with the added bonus of a CB radio. But the fact that it didn't move kind of unnerved me - what the hell was going on in there?

So when I saw the neighborhood in this haunted RV movie I had to wonder if someone from the creative team (the story is attributed to four men) lived around there and had the same thoughts, and came up with the idea of someone taking the vehicle from the area into the empty desert on a family road trip, only for it to go all Christine on them and pick them off one by one. I've said in the past that the reason you don't see a lot of Thanksgiving-themed horror movies is because that's more of a family holiday and no one wants to see little kids and a kindly grandmother being offed, and this movie just kind of proves my point - it's kind of a grim affair. The family is a man, his two adult sons (the mom recently died), and the wife and daughter of one of those sons. The other son is introduced as and continues to act like an asshole, and then they meet up with two randos (including top-billed Mischa Barton) whose truck broke down, so I'm thinking those three and probably the father die, leaving the other son and his family intact, right? Well, I won't spoil the specifics, but I was wrong.

Thus, it's a darker film than I was expecting, and there's more to it than just the body count. I also figured the source of the RV's haunting would be a standard "an evil guy died in it" kind of thing and they'd find his rotting corpse stuffed under the bunk beds or whatever, but it turns out the RV was where a serial killer would torture/kill his victims (dubbed his "Toybox" - hence the title) and now that he's dead he's just keeping up his MO. We don't see a lot of his murders, just photographs and flashbacks, but again it's grimmer than the likes of The Car or something along those lines, which was a bit of a surprise. I've often wondered why so many of these indie horror films feel rather toothless, given that they aren't required to make $100m, so it's nice to see one that takes advantage of the fact that it doesn't have to appeal to everyone.

It also makes good use of the RV setting. For a while we get smaller examples of its power - the evil force tries to shut a window on someone's hand (after baking them a bit by not letting them open the windows at all), and the engine revs up when being worked on, causing a pretty nasty cut. But then it starts killing them off, running them over when no one's actually driving, or rocking about and sending folks toppling around and getting banged up. Even when it breaks down, the characters never stray far from it (a mix of having no supplies and the force seemingly keeping them there), but the DP and camera team manage to keep it from feeling awkward and cramped, even when more exciting things are occurring (if you've never been in an RV, trust me - it's not exactly spacious). I can't help but think of Michael Bay's meeting on Phone Booth where he asked the producers how they could get him out of the booth; even when they had a good excuse to leave the RV in the distance, they stick around and keep using it, so kudos to them.

The film only really falters with some of the acting, and writing for the scenes after a loved one dies (spoilers ahead, skip paragraph if you're a spoilerphobe!). In a move that was probably dictated by child labor laws more than anything else, the little girl gets killed shockingly early, but the parents seem more annoyed by it than devastated. Later on, another member of the family dies and not only does the person who should be most upset barely even seem annoyed this time around, he also encourages a conversation revealing why his parents split up a decade or so earlier. Is that really important right now? One could chalk it up to shock or something, but the actors in question don't seem to be displaying any of that sort of emotion - it just comes off like people not giving a shit that they just lost their family. It's one thing for a slasher or whatever when people are kind of blase about their friends dying, but here it really kind of sticks out as sloppy. My man should be a blubbering mess by the halfway point but he's coming off like he's just angry that the RV broke down and he's gonna miss an important work meeting.

There's also a strange, largely abandoned subplot of people seeing things that already happened, as if to suggest time travel is in play. One in particular has Barton's character inside the RV, looking out the window and seeing a death that happened not too long ago, banging on the window and such to try to stop it from happening (again?), but there's no real explanation for this or the several occasions where they see themselves on the RV's (supposedly broken) television. Normally I'd assume it was just aimless padding, but the movie runs a little longer than average (95 minutes) so it doesn't seem particularly necessary. It's not a crippling thing, but kind of gives the impression they weren't quite sure how to end the film and were setting things up just in case they needed them.

But it mostly works, and at least feels different than most stuff out there - it doesn't seem to be chasing any particular trend, and as far as I can tell the actors are all actual actors, not social media "stars". And it's also refreshingly tech-free: even when they say that they can't get a signal (as required by Horror Movie Law), we're spared shots of their phones, so five or six years from now it won't inspire any giggles the way folks do whenever they see a flip phone. Nothing essential, but it held my interest, which is more than I can say for most of its brethren, and if it ends up on Netflix or Prime (it's actually opening theatrically in LA tomorrow, with a Blu-ray next week) and you're not in the mood for another James Wan wannabe or teen-driven thing, it should do you just fine. And probably make you feel like a more loving parent.

What say you?

P.S. This is the second movie called The Toybox that I've seen/reviewed for HMAD, and oddly enough, I saw the other one the same week Halloween (2007) came out. Well guess what I'm seeing tonight?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Nun (2018)

SEPTEMBER 6, 2018

GENRE: RELIGIOUS, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

The problem with most horror franchises is that they need to keep finding ways to resurrect their central boogeyman, but The Conjuring "universe" has found an easy way around that by introducing the Warrens' room of haunted trinkets, and mixing their real life cases with some made-up ones so they can continue introducing things briefly in the mainline Conjuring movies that otherwise focus on other cases. It worked out so well for Annabelle that it got its own prequel (which outgrossed the original, so there's probably a third one coming), so they're trying again with The Nun, based on one of the terrors from Conjuring 2, and if box office estimates are correct it will once again be a lucrative endeavor - but I'm not sure audiences will ultimately be as satisfied this time around.

Unlike Annabelle, which was at least derived from an actual (or "actual") haunted Raggedy Ann doll, there's no basis in reality for this particular story - there's a demon named Valac in the old lore, but it has no relation to "Valak" from Conjuring 2, nor did it ever take the form of a nun, far as I know. And neither of the Nun's primary characters - a priest who is sent to perform investigations on behalf of the church, and a nun-in-training who occasionally has visions - are based on real people either. The only exception is kind of a spoiler, so I can't get into that, except to say that a lot of what we see here is also made up but seems to be leading into the plot for the potential sequel, one that would presumably tie it into the main Conjuring films more than the Annabelle films (or this one) ever managed.

So long story short, they had to make up pretty much everything here, but despite that license they didn't quite flesh it out as much as they did for the Annabelles (and when I say "they" it's not a stretch - it's the same screenwriter and producers as those films). Bizarrely, the movie kind of tells us a lot in its opening sequence: there's an old, isolated abbey in Romania that has some sort of evil force contained within it, and the nuns are the gatekeepers, preventing it from getting out to the rest of the world. But it's one of those movies where we know more than the protagonist, so we spend a lot of time watching Taissa Farmiga's character wander around, getting spooked when the internal Horror Movie Scare Clock demands it, until learning that... there's an evil force in the abbey and the nuns are keeping it from getting out. It's almost like the opening scene wasn't supposed to be there, because it's treated as a big reveal later.

Even weirder (spoilers here, skip to next paragraph if you wish) the same opening has a nun kill herself to prevent the demon from having a vessel (i.e. a living body), which any intelligent viewer can understand to mean that there were no other nuns there, because otherwise it'd be a pretty pointless action to take. So when Farmiga and the priest (Demian Bichir as Father Burke, possibly a reference to Exorcist's Burke Dennings?) arrive and talk to a few nuns, my initial thought was "Oh, the nuns are all ghosts", because - again - the nun killed herself to keep the demon from having a vessel. If there were other nuns there she'd just be dooming one of them to get possessed instead, which isn't very Christian of her. But an hour goes by before they tell us that there are no other nuns there, they are indeed ghosts, and that the one who killed herself was the last one. It's clunky, to say the least.

I was also baffled by the fact that they seem to be hiding Farmiga's character's name, which is Irene - I think they only say it once near the beginning of the film and never again. Given her sister's prominence in this franchise, and their similar looks, I thought it was an intentional bit of subterfuge that she was mostly ever addressed as "Sister", and we'd find out she was actually a young Lorraine Warren or at least her sister (heh) or something, but no. So it's just a weird casting choice; nothing against Taissa but of all the actresses in the world, and given the series' habit (heh, again!) of twists, why would they distract us by putting her in the role? The film's setting (1952) is even perfect for this kind of thing, as Taissa is within a year of the age Lorraine would have been then, but while there is a twist at the end (a pretty good one, too) it has nothing to do with her. Alas, this means that her rather thinly drawn character - which I was assuming throughout most of the runtime was intentional to try to hide her identity from us - was just that, and in a movie with only three characters of note, that kind of hurts.

None of those three characters are the titular Nun, by the way. She doesn't really appear all that much, oddly enough; Burke tells of a botched exorcism that haunts him and so he is menaced by a demonic version of the little boy he failed to save, and I swear he appears just as much as the Nun. "The Nuns" would be a more accurate title, since instead of just the main one (played by Bonnie Aarons again) we just get a lot of anonymous ghost nuns without faces, as anyone who has seen the trailer can tell you (where Taissa turns to see one following her, only to be attacked by a second one from her side). This allows for some of the film's most memorable sequences, like when a character has to make his way through them and they all turn in unison and sort of flock in one direction, but at the end of the film I felt I didn't really get more time with the "character" than I did in Conjuring 2. I mean, with Annabelle they couldn't really do all that much with the doll but managed to give it a full presence in the movies - they don't quite manage the same thing here, which is weird when it can, you know, move.

But that sequence, and a few others, make the movie watchable and even fairly fun for the most part, despite the story's shortcomings. There's a fun "buried alive" bit, an attack on a guy in a cemetery (with a fantastic punchline involving a cross), the scenes in the catacombs are all solid, and - even though it's mostly just exposition - the flashback scene explaining how the evil came to be sealed/released in the abbey is pretty great, to the point where I almost wish it was the main part of the story in the first place (but hey, now they can do a prequel to this prequel to the sequel!). And those are just the highlights; I should stress that the movie didn't have any BAD scenes, and I was never really bored - it just didn't quite all gel together in a fully satisfying way. The plot isn't exactly complicated, and as I said we kind of learn some of the information twice, so there isn't a lot of momentum or build-up to the narrative, so your mileage will vary and exclusively depends on how well the scares work for you. It's fun, but not as involving as I may have hoped.

That said, I am happy to report there aren't as many jump scares as there were in Annabelle: Creation. Director Corin Hardy (whose movie The Hallow is highly recommended) shares producer James Wan's love of fog machines and gives the film a sort of Hammer vibe (a scene where one of our protagonists visits a pub seems straight out of Plague of the Zombies or one of those), so there's more of an emphasis on atmosphere than giving the audience a reason to look up from their phones. It's still got plenty of those jolt moments (the best, alas, is the one from the trailer, which by now didn't even cause a titter in my audience), but Hardy doesn't seemingly feel the need to overload the film with them like it's some sort of competition. For the most part, they happen when they should, and while some work better than others, none of them are "fake", which is always a plus in my book.

They have already announced a movie about Crooked Man (also from C2), plus sequels to all existing branches, so this franchise isn't going away any time soon. But I hope the spinoff folks start realizing that a big part of what made us like the Conjurings was the characters and their loving bond, which made us want to go on those journeys with them. We can debate the accountability of the *actual* Warrens all day long, but the slightly fictionalized versions played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are winners, and the three spinoffs have yet to come up with anyone as personable as them. And that's not a slight against any of the actors who have played the heroes in these other movies - it's just a side effect of centering them around the demon baddies. But when they're all prequels, we kind of know that the heroes in these films will have short-lived victories (if any), so I wish they spent more time giving us a reason to want to see them succeed, or at least survive. Otherwise they're just kind of like slasher movies without victims, giving us iconic villains who ultimately don't really do anything memorable.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Strait-Jacket (1964)

AUGUST 21, 2018

GENRE: THRILLER
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

I don't know if it was spoiled in the William Castle documentary I saw a few years back or if I'm just THAT GOOD at movies (it's probably the former), but for some reason I spotted the twist in Strait-Jacket almost instantly, which probably took some of the fun out as I wasn't allowed to be as surprised as audiences were in 1964. But I still had a good time with this more low-key - and largely humorless - Castle film than the others I've seen, and since I think it's the first Joan Crawford movie I've actually seen in its entirety, whatever enjoyment I lost from knowing the twist was supplemented by some nostalgia. As a kid, I saw some of Mommie Dearest on TV and it freaked me out (the wire hanger part), as I didn't understand "camp" or know who Crawford was or anything - I just saw a lady with "paint" on her face (part of makeup regimen, I [now] assume) beating her daughter with a hanger as the child begged her to stop. Even now it kind of upsets me to think about it!

For those uninformed, Crawford (played in that film by Nurse Ratched herself, Louise Fletcher Faye Dunaway - my memory was getting jumbled with Fletcher as the evil woman in Flowers in the Attic!)) was a beloved actress, but according to her daughter (the author of the book Mommie Dearest was based on), she was a goddamn nightmare of a mother who cared more about her career and reputation than she did ever loving her own children. Some of her colleagues have denied the daughter's claims, others have supported them, so only they know if the events in the book are true, but there's certainly no denying that Crawford was a very demanding woman who made many enemies during her career. In fact, after listening to the commentary and bonus features on the disc, I started getting the impression that if she wasn't so tyrannical the movie might not have been as interesting as it is. For starters, the role was originally written for a woman to wear a fat suit, but she steadfastly refused and forced them to rewrite it, so (spoilers for 50+ year old movie ahead!) we end up with someone wearing a creepy AF Crawford mask, which unnerved me a bit, something a fat suit wouldn't likely have done.

As for why the person is wearing a Crawford mask... well, have you seen Psycho II? OK, well this is pretty much the same movie, with Crawford in the Norman Bates role. At the beginning of the film, she murders her husband (a very young Lee Majors! I was watching his S3 episode of Ash Vs Evil Dead on the same day, so that was funny) and the woman he's cheating on her with, and sent away for twenty years. When she's let out, she's trying to adjust to a normal life and reacquaint herself with her daughter, but she gets weird phone calls and sees disembodied heads and people start dying, so it seems she's gone crazy again. But if you've seen Psycho II you'd know that's not the case, and it's someone just trying to drive her crazy and pin some murders on her, with the mask being a damn good way of selling the idea.

I won't spoil the identity of the killer here, but I was tickled how similar it was to Richard Franklin's film, and began thinking that it had to be intentional, because this film was written by Robert Bloch, who as we know wrote the novel Psycho. But what's less known is that he wrote a sequel novel himself, one that they didn't use for the film (it involved a movie being made about Norman's life, and it was very rapey), but since so much of the plot of this film and the one they made (written by Tom Holland) is similar it's almost like he should have gotten a credit anyway. Adding to the fun "trivia" about the whole thing is that Castle's earlier film Homicidal was knocked as being a Psycho ripoff, so it's also like they kind of "paid him back" by ripping off his movie to make their Psycho sequel.

Also Psycho-ish - the last scene of the movie, where everything is explained via rambling exposition. It's a scene that's rather amusing because of how clunky and unnecessary it was, but as the bonus features tell us, it wasn't supposed to be in there. The script ended with the murderer talking to themselves, but Crawford didn't want to be left out of the film's final scene and demanded an epilogue that put her in the spotlight! So again, her insatiable ego resulted in a film that gave me more to talk about 50 years later, so thanks for that, Ms. Crawford. Because otherwise, it's kind of a snoozer at times, feeling like what might have been an OK episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents stretched out to 95 minutes, which is a bit long by the standards of B movies of the day (and is the longest of any Castle film I've seen). Again, maybe some of the fun was dampened because I spotted the killer so early, but I mean... I still enjoy Sixth Sense even though I know Bruce is a ghost, you know?

There's enough good stuff to make it overall enjoyable though, particularly anything involving a young George Kennedy as the Lenny-esque farm hand who not only gets the spotlight in the film's best little scare moment (he thinks someone is following him in/around some hanging laundry, and a shirt sleeve somehow wraps around his throat), but (spoiler) is the victim in a pretty effective decapitation scene. This one didn't have any of Castle's usual gimmicks (apparently, his financial advisers told him to knock it off), save for some cardboard axes given out and Crawford making some in theater appearances, but I can imagine that bit would have stunned folks out of their seats back in the day, as we weren't yet used to seeing heads getting knocked off like we are now. I also liked how they used the familiar Lizzie Borden rhyme ("Gave her mother forty whacks...") but applied it to this film's killer, and again, the killer wearing the Crawford mask is a pretty freaky visual, so it didn't need a plastic skeleton floating by or whatever to get the jolts he craved.

But the bonus features offer the most enjoyment on the disc. Not only does the film historian commentary (by Steve Haberman and David J Schow, plus Constantine Nasr, whose name is curiously absent from the packaging) provide genuine info about THIS movie instead of just going off on endless tangents about the actors' other movies like too many historian tracks often do, but they offer some honest critiques of the film while also touting its high points, and even disagree (good-naturedly!) about a few things, making it far more fun than most of its type. They even read a letter from Crawford where she dismisses the film and says that if she wasn't a Christian woman she'd kill herself if she ever saw Trog on a marquee, so remind me to watch Trog as soon as possible. Then there's what's gotta be a first, or at least, one of the very few: an interview with an actress who wasn't in the movie, because Crawford had her fired! It's a pretty funny story and she doesn't seem to be too hung up on it, so it's an inspired addition, as is another interview with her publicist, who must have been the hardest working man in show business during her reign. There's also a retrospective documentary from a previous release (so fair warning to picky viewers, it's not in HD) and some screen tests, making it one of the more fleshed out packages for one of Scream Factory's pre-70s fare releases.

The film arrives alongside a special edition of The Tingler, and they have (or at least HAD) House on Haunted Hill from the Vincent Price set and did I Saw What You Did a couple years back, so I hope this means more Castle packages are coming. There are still a few I haven't seen (Mr. Sardonicus!), and I'd love to have a boxed set of them all if they could pull it off (and since they managed to get all of the Halloween films in one set, I believe they can do anything). Sure, seeing them in theaters with the gimmicks intact is more fun, but his blend of humor and horror makes most of his films essential viewing, especially at this time of the year. Plus it'd be easier to justify keeping one like this, which I doubt I'd personally want to watch again, but might blow the mind of my kid once (OK, IF) he starts watching horror movies, since I'd like for him to start with smaller ones like this before diving into anything truly gruesome. As he gets older I find myself entertained by watching HIM watch things, which would be helpful for movies like this that were inadvertently spoiled for me by the films that took inspiration from it.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Slender Man (2018)

AUGUST 10, 2018

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I pay zero attention to "Creepypasta" type nonsense, so I never heard of the Slender Man story until I saw a news story about a pair of dumbass 12 year old girls who stabbed their friend in an attempt to appease this made-up boogeyman and "live with him in his mansion" (the girl they stabbed survived and recovered, thankfully). Since then there have been other, less severe incidents stemming from people thinking this guy is a real thing, but since they're all in jail or institutionalized Sony will have trouble reaching their target audience for their film about it, i.e. idiots that buy into the idea that he's real, which is the only way I can see anyone being scared by his presence in this woefully undercooked flick.

The main problem with the film is that it seems to assume we all know the story well, or, at least, that it's as universally known an urban legend as the man with the hook or the "calls are coming from inside the house!" kind of scenarios. But, you know, it's not - it's an internet thing with origins only dating back less than a decade ago; even "Leroy Jenkins" has a more storied pedigree. The movie gives a bit of context early on, when our group of four teenaged girls amuse themselves during a sleepover by going online and trying to summon him (prompting the usual "What's (this thing that the others know about)"/90 seconds of exposition conversation that peppers just about every supernaturally driven horror movie post-The Ring), but after that he just shows up for jump scares. Imagine if Candyman never gave Tony Todd anything to do beyond show up in underlit backgrounds, with no backstory or connection to the protagonist, and... well, you'd probably still have a better movie than this.

In fact I got the sneaking suspicion that at some point in development, the writer planned to do a fictionalized version of the real-life stabbing tragedy, but either got cold feet or was forced to change it by the powers that be (possibly even after shooting, since the trailer shows two major sequences that are not in the film). The plot really kicks off when one of the four, Katie (Annalise Basso from Oculus), disappears during a field trip to a cemetery - but the scene actually showing that (kidnapping? murder?) is jarringly absent from the film, cutting from the girl just looking at one of the tombstones to a few hours later, when everyone is wondering where she is. Given that it's only about 20 minutes into the movie - i.e. time for a traditional scare scene - its absence is very awkward, but would be necessary in the long run if one or more of the other girls had something to do with her disappearance. Plus, throughout the movie main girl Hallie (Julia Goldani Telles) seems to be dodging direct questions about the disappearance, as if she knew more than she was letting on, and apart from nightmares is conspicuously left alone by Slender Man who keeps appearing to the two remaining girls.

(SPOILERS AHEAD!)

So it all seems to be heading toward some sort of half-assed High Tension thing (most tellingly in a scene where she tries messaging the same mysterious Slender Man website contact who has been talking to the others, only to get no reply. HMMMMM...), but then it gets dropped in a rushed, incredibly anticlimactic sequence where her sister goes into a coma for some reason and she goes off to confront Slender Man, who... sucks her into a tree, I guess? Then there's an epilogue about how he spreads like a virus, and the film ends. So did Katie get sucked into a tree too? Why did their other friend Chloe just turn into a zombie of some sort? Why was Hallie acting so suspicious every time someone asked about Katie's whereabouts? It's clunky AF, and joins the film's already overstocked collection of problems.

Such as the fact that it's not even remotely scary. And no, I'm not talking about me simply not being scared - the theater had a good sized crowd for a weekday matinee (half full-ish) with plenty of the target teens among them, and I didn't hear a single gasp/scream during the entire film (the D- Cinemascore suggests this was not an anomaly). Almost all of the scare scenes play out identically: someone hears a creaking/stick breaking kind of sound, the image gets a bit warbly thanks to a bunch of After Effects filters, and then they see Slender Man (Javier Botet, of course) standing in a corner or something before he starts to move toward them, often accompanied by CGI tentacles and/or spider-legs. Then they either wake up because it was a dream or they disappear from the narrative and our heroine seemingly doesn't care much. The only effective moment in the entire movie comes about an hour in, when Hallie starts making out with her Miles Teller-y boyfriend and starts hallucinating him making all these weird faces, which made me laugh because if they kept going and had sex, he'd just be making *other* weird faces.

Another insurmountable issue is that our characters are the least interesting batch of horror teens in ages; you'd have to go back to C-listers from the early '80s slasher heyday to find a group this less distinguished. The only girl who seems interesting is the one that disappears first, leaving us with three that might as well be interchanged from scene to scene. There's some early attempts at what you'd think would be foreshadowing, such as Hallie's running prowess and her little sister's desire to be a part of their group, but neither element is mentioned again, and I honestly know less about Hallie's other two friends (one of whom is played by Joey King, who is 0-2 lately between this and Wish Upon) after spending 90 minutes with them. And pretty much *only* them, as the male characters and parents become literal background extras as the film goes on, to the point where I wasn't sure if Hallie's mother was in the hospital or if it was just a nurse since they didn't bother to give a closeup of the woman (or names to either parent; even though Michael Reilly Burke is a familiar enough character actor he's just "Hallie's Dad" in the credits). Not that calling him "Bill" would solve the movie's problems, but if you're going to minimize every other character to this degree, why can't the ones that are in focus be more developed?

It's possible that they DID have all of that characterization and I simply couldn't see it, however. Since Peter Hyams is in director's jail I would have to go back to AVP: Requiem to find a major release film this murky and underlit, with two would-be standout sequences being so dark I literally had trouble telling what was happening. I even wondered if something was amiss with the transfer itself, but every now and then we were treated to a nice establishing shot of the northern Massachusetts locale, so I know they could photograph things properly and that it wasn't the theater projecting it wrong. And I often wondered why they even cast Botet at all since his interactions with cast members were so brief and often overshadowed by his CGI appendages, making it a pointless decision to use a real actor at all when you consider how many of his appearances are in blurry backgrounds that could have been achieved just as easily with visual FX.

You see how bad this movie is? It has me saying "CGI would be better". Ugh. The theaters in the Milwaukee area where the stabbing occurred have declined to show the film out of respect for the residents who were affected by it; it would be a good thing if every other town joined them in solidarity. So you're safe, Winchester, for this is right now the frontrunner for worst major release horror movie of the year. And don't see that as a sort of "challenge"; I assure you this is not the "fun" kind of bad like Gotti or whatever - it's just a slog. Just watch the documentary, which is what I wish I had done instead.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Meg (2018)

AUGUST 4, 2018

GENRE: MONSTER, PREDATOR
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (PREVIEW SCREENING)

For almost as long as we've had movie websites devoted to rumors and info about upcoming films, The Meg has been in development. It has been kicking around since 1997 at various studios starting with Disney, gone through any number of directors (including Jan de Bont and Eli Roth), and pretty much seemed like a movie that would never actually get made, like The Crow remake. But score one for persistence, as it's finally been made with director Jon "Where the hell is National Treasure 3" Turteltaub and a cast led by Jason Statham, in his first top-billed role for this type of big budget summer blockbuster (the costs are reportedly around $200m, and to think, Sony once refused to let him star in the $40m Ghosts of Mars because he wasn't a big enough draw). But only because the shark is unbilled.

The shark, of course, is the REAL draw here, and it's certainly an impressive sight. Due to the PG-13 rating we aren't always treated to the full view of its carnage, but the VFX wizards have put their full resources (and budget) into making sure it looks good when it makes its big appearances, so that you fully believe Statham could, at any moment, kick it in the face. And unlike the giant shark in Jurassic World and its sequel, it doesn't just pop up for two scenes (that get spoiled in the trailer anyway), there are a number of face-offs between it and Statham's crew throughout the movie, building to the big beach scene where it has a smorgasbord awaiting it. Again, it's PG-13, so don't get TOO excited (Piranha 3D it ain't), but it caused enough damage and racked up enough of a body count to satisfy me.

But to be fair, adventurous fun is the goal here, not blood and guts, and last I checked Jaws didn't have much of that sort of thing either. And unlike most shark movies, the heroes feel somewhat responsible for the thing's wrath of terror, as it was trapped under a layer of (science mumbo-jumbo) in the Mariana Trench, perfectly happy with the other fish that were down there, but then the scientists come along and put a hole in that layer to go explore. The Meg (short for Megalodon) attacks them and breaks through the hole, so it's on them to stop it before it reaches the mainland. Along with Statham (a rescue diver with the obligatory tragic past) there's the researchers who run the underwater station, the rich moron that paid for it all, a computer hacker (because of course there is), a security kinda guy... it's very Crichton-y with regards to its crew, and like the best Crichton novels it's not readily apparent who will live and who will die.

Except, of course, Statham, who has one too many close encounters with the shark that really should have been trusted to another character. The end of the film, when he goes on a potential suicide mission, has the necessary suspense, because maybe they WILL kill off their action icon hero (worth noting that this was in development at Disney around the same time as Armageddon). But early on, when they're just trying to put a tracker on it and things like that, there are two sequences in a row where Statham's pretty much the only one in immediate danger, and it doesn't quite work. Cliff Curtis is introduced as Statham's "old buddy" type and is seemingly the muscle for whatever problems usually arose before they unleashed a prehistoric shark, but for some reason I don't think he ever once goes in the water, which is a waste - he's exactly the kind of actor who could have this kind of glorified cameo role and die first, but also stick around until the climax and maybe get offed there.

But again: FUN! You don't WANT any of these folks to die, because they're all pretty charming and they have a good camaraderie. I wouldn't say I got sad when anyone died, but I never rooted for their demise either. Even the requisite asshole guy, a doctor who thought Statham was crazy when he claimed he saw the giant shark in the first place, has his merits and ultimately makes peace with Statham (it's more satisfying and believable than Dom Toretto forgiving him, at least). And the actors all seem to be fully aware what kind of movie they're in; they're not winking at the camera exactly, but there's a slight twinkle in their eye as they give their occasionally ridiculous dialogue the gravitas it needs - they're all more Sam Neill than Jeff Goldblum, in other words. And Statham gets to use his underutilized comedic chops on occasion, which seems to please him, and he also gets to make cute with the mandatory little kid, reminding me yet again that he's pretty much the only one of these "Expendable" action guys who hasn't made a kiddie flick ye (but keeps dipping his toes in with things like this and the baby sequence in F8).

The 3D is also quite fun, and worth the extra 3 bucks or whatever it is now. The conversion tech has come a long way in the past 8-9 years, so it's largely free of those weird errors that take away from the fun (like when someone's arm seems to grow 10 feet long because the conversion software screwed up), and there are just enough "in your face" gags to make audiences feel they got their money's worth without the movie becoming a chore in 2D (like chunks of Friday the 13th Part 3, which screened in 3D the night before at the same theater - they're doing a festival). Hell I even ducked at one "comin at ya!" moment, and I can't even remember the last time that happened (though to be fair I rarely bother with 3D anymore), and at times I regretted not waiting until this weekend to see the film in "4D", which adds water spray and motion seats to the deal. I know it's August and your summer blockbuster budget is probably depleted, but I assure you this is a movie designed to be engaged with in as silly a manner as possible.

The screening was paired with Jaws 3D, which was just as horribly dull as I thought it was in 2D (I ended up walking out; the old school 3D gives me a bit of a cross-eye and while it was worth it for Jason's hockey mask debut, it most certainly was not to watch a bunch of people walk around at Sea World), and Deep Blue Sea, which didn't need any kind of gimmick to be awesome. I still consider that the alpha and omega of shark movies that are not Jaws, but The Meg stacks up admirably with it, and as long as you can get past the PG-13 aspect (Deep Blue Sea was gloriously R-rated at times) I think if you're a fan of that one you'll have a good time with this. I don't know how well it'll hold up at home by yourself (and most likely in 2D), but with a packed crowd of people laughing and cheering at the right moments (nearly everything Winston Chao says had our audience howling) it's pretty much the last summer movie that will offer up those kind of popcorn thrills. Maybe it wasn't worth twenty years of development, but hey, at least they finally figured it out and made it work. Take THAT, Dark Tower movie!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Cured (2017)

JULY 24, 2018

GENRE: ZOMBIE
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

This isn't a complaint (so, not a "first world problem") but I have a stack of Blu-rays near my couch that never seems to dwindle; for every one I manage to watch, I seemingly get three or four more, either for review, winning at trivia, or just gifted from friends who maybe forgot I don't watch this junk every day anymore. It's kind of a source for stress since I find myself unable to get rid of anything I haven't watched (or at least tried to), but the nice thing is that every now and then I find a minor gem like The Cured in that pile, justifying my whole "I gotta keep these" mentality. And now I can pass it on to someone with a "This is pretty good!" instead of a "Here, you throw this away" attitude.

And I want to stress that it is good, despite my plans to get rid of it instead of adding it to the permanent collection. I have made some great strides toward being someone who only owns the movies they plan to watch at least once again, preferably a couple times, as opposed to just owning every movie I like. Life's too short and I obviously don't get to watch as many movies as I'd like to anymore, so the idea of keeping a movie that I'm never going to watch again is unrelated to its merit. In fact, in a growing sub-sub-genre of zombie movies concerning cured zombies attempting to fold themselves back into society, it might be my favorite, or at least tied with The Returned (click the link before you argue - there's a few things with that title so you want to be sure we're thinking of the same one!). And even though it didn't have a lot of traditional zombie action, I think it would have made Romero proud, as it's one of the more socially conscious zombie films I've seen in quite a while.

As the opening text tells us, there was a typical kind of "infected" (think 28 Days Later, not undead rising from the graves) outbreak that nearly decimated Ireland, but a cure was found and 75% of the infected people are pretty much human again (nightmares and some nasty PTSD are the lingering after effects). The other 25%, "The Resistant", could not be cured for reasons unknown, and continue to be quarantined and are set to be humanely executed so that the virus can be definitively wiped out for good. However, some of the "Cured" feel a kinship with these people (who act more or less like traditional movie zombies; cannibalism is even mentioned, setting them apart from the 28 Days Later types they otherwise resemble) and mount protests to keep them alive, even resorting to more dangerous territory like throwing molotovs at empty (OR ARE THEY?!?!) homes of the military types that plan to wipe them all out.

It's not hard to see the parallels to real world issues regarding both immigration and people who are condemned because of their circumstances. Yes, the people who were infected are now cured and seemingly pose no threat, but they did terrible things when they were infected, and it isn't easy for our human characters (who were never infected) to separate the person they see before them now and the person that likely murdered people during their infected state. This is a very sore subject for our main characters, as our hero Senan now lives with his brother's wife Abbie (Ellen Page) and helps take up some of the responsibilities formerly held by his brother, who was killed during the outbreak. Since Senan's friend Conor seems to have a particular interest in Abbie (not a romantic one) and has advised Senan "not to tell her" about *something*, it doesn't take much of your brainpower to realize they are probably the ones responsible for the man's death. Abbie says more than once that the cured people shouldn't be treated as murderers when they had no control over their actions (and it's not like they asked to be infected), but can she hold up that resolve when it hits that close to home?

It's an interesting dilemma, and kind of the inverse of one I see happening a lot today, where people who voted for You Know Who now regret it because his monstrous policies and unchecked racist agenda have affected people they care about. People think they have the right answer for everyone else, but when it actually affects them, suddenly their tune changes. It's also an interesting "What if it were me?" kind of plot point, because I honestly don't know how I'd react to someone who hurt my family if they did so while under the influence of this kind of virus. Obviously I wouldn't BLAME them as I would a drunk driver or idiot with a gun, but could I let them stay in my home, or be near my other loved ones? It's an impossible thing to deal with, so I guess it's a good thing zombies aren't real as I'll never have to know.

Then there's the military folk, who seem to think that the cured people are just as unworthy of living as the ones who are still infected, akin to how certain people in charge seem to believe that if you're from a particular Arab nation you're automatically a terrorist. Hero Senan is clearly no threat to anyone, but as a former infected he has to meet with some army asshole much like an ex-con has to meet with a parole officer, and the man treats him with a similar amount of contempt, confident that Senan and the thousands of other cured people will end up reverting back to murderous thugs. I won't spoil whether or not they do, but if you're not particularly interested in the more dramatic side of things then the final act of the movie should scratch your itch, as there's plenty of action and even some minor gore, plus an honest to god perfectly executed jump scare that got me about as good as the one in Dawn of the Dead where the zombie poses as a mannequin and lunges at Roger out of nowhere.

But honestly, I was more into the drama parts of the film. I've seen the action beats from the film's final 30 minutes before, and while they're well done I wouldn't say they were particularly compelling, and the film ends on a rather vague note that I didn't appreciate (because it involves a kid, and dammit, I'm a very sensitive father! I WANT CLOSURE!!!). But even though there have been other "the zombies are OK now" stories in the past, the numerous allusions to the increasingly terrifying real world (all the more impressive considering this was made in 2016) and genuinely compelling tragic circumstances surrounding our protagonists made it far more worthy of my attention than I was expecting from a "pile" movie. I've kind of lost the plot on zombie fare as of late; I stopped watching Walking Dead a few seasons ago and the last undead movie I reviewed here was over a year ago (which means it might very well be the last one I saw not counting rewatches of old faves), so I guess I'd be open for another NOTLD ripoff with a bunch of people holed up in a (fill in the blank) fighting off zombies and each other, but I'd be much more likely to get up to speed if there were more movies like this out there, where plot and characters take precedent over how many different ways a zombie could be dispatched, and the "evil" humans had an actual argument to consider.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

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